It’s done – the race is over! Well done! We hope that you achieved your goal, whatever it may have been. And now there’s only one thing more important than training… recovery.
Well-timed nutrition can help your body recover by:
- Restoring muscle and liver glycogen stores
- Replacing fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
- Regenerating, repairing and adapting to an increased training load
- Supporting the immune system 
Don’t waste all that hard work of training. Rest, recovery, great nutrition and sleep are critical.
Very often athletes meticulously plan their pre-race routine and nutrition, yet pay little attention to their post-race recovery protocol. And yet it’s equally important – and needs to be carefully planned too. Practical issues of fatigue, loss of appetite, dehydration and limited access to suitable foods at the race venue need to be considered. Ideally, pack a suitable post-race snack or meal so that you are self-sufficient and don’t have to rely on unsuitable alternatives.
“Appropriate nutrition is an essential prerequisite for effective improvement of athletic performance, conditioning, recovery from fatigue after exercise and avoidance of injury.” 
Post exercise nutrition forms a crucial part of the recovery process and can positively affect subsequent performance. The 45 minutes immediately following exercise is the metabolic window of opportunity. Ivy and Portman  state that at no other time during the course of your day can nutrition make such a major difference in your overall training program. This window is only open for a short period of time after exercise and within just minutes after you stop, it begins to close. Taking in more nutrients outside of this window will not produce the same results.
Up to 45 minutes after a training session replenish with carbohydrates to replace glycogen stored in the muscles. And replenish also with protein; synthesis of muscle protein is improved (up to three times more) when taken immediately after exercise (rather than waiting an hour or more). When getting your post-race nutrition right, other possible benefits include improved muscle mass, reduced muscle damage, initiation of tissue repair and greater fat oxidation – burning more fat.
Choose nutrient-dense options. Some ideas include homemade fruit smoothie with added protein powder, wholegrain pasta with lean protein such as fish or chicken and a generous portion of vegetables, or perhaps a baked sweet potato filled with mixed beans or tuna and a hearty salad.
Athletes typically only replace 30-70% of the sweat losses incurred during exercise. Consequently most athletes can expect to finish a training session or race with a mild to moderate level of dehydration. This loss of body fluid can impair thermoregulation as well as the circulatory system and can lead to a decline in athletic performance. Therefore, to maintain homeostasis, it is essential to replenish water and electrolytes. Yet many athletes fail to drink sufficient volumes of fluid post race to restore this optimal fluid balance. Fluid loss may continue post-race due to continued sweat loss, but also through urination. Optimal post-race rehydration requires carefully planned fluid intake in order to overcome the challenges of inadequate thirst, and poor access to the right type of fluids. A drink containing electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and chloride can help to replenish body fluid more rapidly.
The immune system is a complex and well-orchestrated system that fights viruses and bacteria, clears out damaged tissue, destroys abnormal cells and helps us adapt to our environment. A balanced training program of exercise and rest can lead to improved performance.
The stress of a strenuous exercise like an endurance event can transiently suppress immune function, providing an “open window” for a variety of infectious diseases to take hold. Similarly, cumulative overtraining weakens the athlete’s immune system, leading to frustrating illness and injury.
The best model that accommodates clinical observations and laboratory experiments is described by the “J”-curve . It is important to note that this curve is individualized; what is moderate training for some is overtraining for others.
A high intake of anti-oxidants through a variety of fruit and vegetables can help to support the immune system. Eat like a rainbow incorporating as many different coloured foods as you can. A targeted supplement protocol which includes probiotics, glutamine, vitamin C and vitamin D can provide additional immune support.
Don’t forget to include a gentle stretch to help your muscles recover. And as a well-earned treat schedule in a post-race massage to complete your recovery programme.
1. Burke, L and Deakin, V. 2010. Clinical Sports Nutrition. North Ryde, NSW. McGraw Hill
2. Aoi, W., Naito, Y., Yoshikawa, T. 2006. Exercise and Functional Foods. Nutrition Journal. 5:15.
3. Ivy, J and Portman, R. 2004. Nutrient Timing. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications
4. Woods, J.A., Davis, J.M., Smith, J.A and Nieman, D.C. 1999. Exercise and cellular innate immune function. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31(1):57-66.